Divorce and Relationship-Related Identity Theft in New York
There were 782,038 divorces in the US in 2018.
And according to a 2019 Pew Research study, more Americans between the ages of 18 and 50 cohabitated at some time in their life than were ever married. The number of those relationships that end in a breakup is unknown, but financial conflict was surely part of many of those separations, just as it is in many divorces.
When marriages and love relationships work, they are a source of joy. While many marriages and romantic relationships end amicably enough, others are more acrimonious. When couples split up, one person often learns their spouse engaged in unauthorized financial transactions, hid important information from them about unpaid bills, or overspent on credit cards without the other’s knowledge.
Family law attorneys who confront cases of credit abuse or “coerced credit” should be familiar with the federal laws that protect their clients from being unfairly saddled with involuntary debt from unauthorized transactions. Although the applicable law is somewhat specialized, powerful remedies are often available for divorce and relationship-related identity theft in New York.
Spousal Identity Theft
You might not associate one spouse’s unauthorized use of the other’s credit card as identity theft, but that is precisely how the law views it. Unless authorized by the account holder, anyone who takes or spends money from another person’s account is impersonating the account holder, whether the user is a stranger or a spouse. Federal law provides valuable protections to people whose soon-to-be former spouses or ex-lovers abused them financially. This form of economic abuse has become so pervasive that every state and territorial legislature is working to amend criminal identity theft statutes so they clearly apply to domestic partners, including a restitution provision.
The key to minimizing the damage you suffer is to act swiftly.
If you follow the steps we outline in this article and you don’t receive satisfaction, contact an experience consumer protection lawyer like Dan Schlanger for help. Attorney Schlanger’s practice focuses on identity theft, credit reporting, and other consumer protection issues. He has devoted his legal career to fighting banks, credit reporting agencies, credit card issuers, debt collectors, and large financial institutions when they fail to follow their obligations to consumers under state and federal law. The law provides for your lawyer’s fee to be paid by the bank or credit issuer if they don’t comply with their obligations.
If you are a general practitioner or family law attorney, Schlanger Law Group LLP is happy to act as a resource and, where appropriate act as co-counsel or take a case on referral.
Important Take Aways for Relationship-Related Identity Theft:
If you are the victim of domestic violence of any kind, call your local domestic violence hotline for help, or call 1-800-799-7233 from anywhere in the US.
What to do if your spouse used your ATM or debit card without your authorization to withdraw money, make a purchase, or electronically transfer funds from your account without your authorization:
- Report the unauthorized transaction to the bank card issuer immediately but no later than two business days after you discover the charges. If you only discover the charge on your monthly statement, notify the bank that it was not authorized right away, but no later than 60 days after the charges appear on a monthly statement, if at all possible. Any reasonable form of notice to the bank is generally sufficient, such as a phone call, a personal visit, an email, or a letter.
- Though not required, you should follow up with a written statement to the bank to ensure your dispute of the charge(s) is recorded. Your monthly statement will have an address to which you can direct disputes. Use that address.
- If you act swiftly, the federal Electronic Funds Transfer Act (EFTA) obliges the bank to investigate the case and to restore your funds if it finds you did not authorize the transaction. (*The EFTA does not apply to credit cards. See the next bullet point.)
- If the bank violates the EFTA procedures, the bank can be liable not only for your funds and fees, but for your attorney fees and costs as well.
What to do if your spouse used your credit card or opened a credit card account in your name without your authorization:
- Notify the credit card company of the false or erroneous charge immediately so that no further charges can be made.
- If you dispute the charge in writing within 60 days of when it first appeared on your statement, the Fair Credit Billing Act (FCBA) and the Truth In Lending Act (TILA) extend protections for credit card holders similar to the EFTA’s debit card protections. The FCBA and TILA protect you from liability for any unauthorized credit card charges or billing errors. You must send the letter disputing the charge to the “billing inquiries” address shown on your statement to get the FCBA’s protections (Sample letter).
- Under the FCBA and TILA (Section 1643), you are not liable for any fraudulent or unauthorized charges on your credit card. The credit card issuer must investigate the case if the charge is over $50 and most credit card companies wave all charges.
- Contact all three major credit card reporting agencies to notify them of the fraudulent use of your credit account and to dispute any accounts opened without your knowledge. Do this in writing and include copies of any supporting document.
- You may request a “block,” so the credit bureau doesn’t share information relating to the disputed entry on any report. You may need to provide an identity theft police report to the credit bureau to obtain the block.
- You can also request a “security freeze” which will prevent the credit bureau from issuing any information about you without your express permission. The freeze will also stop the identity thief or you from opening new accounts until the freeze is lifted.
What to do if the credit reporting bureaus don’t accept your claim or respond inappropriately to your dispute of the fraudulent or unauthorized charge:
- You have the legal right under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) to dispute any inaccurate entry in your credit report.
- The credit bureau is legally required to investigate your dispute. It is strongly recommended that you substantiate your fraud claim with a detailed letter and supporting documents, including a police report and fraud affidavit where appropriate. If the reporting agency denies your claim, you will be in a stronger position to bring suit if you have properly documented your claim during the dispute process.
- If you are still denied relief, you can file a complaint online with the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), but this is not a substitute for filing a lawsuit and will not preserve your rights or stop the clock on any deadlines.
Learn More about Divorce and Relationship-Related Identity Theft in New York
If you need help resolving spousal or lover identity theft issues, credit or debit card fraud, or uncooperative bank or credit reporting companies, contact one of the nation’s leading consumer protection law firm at Schlanger Law Group, LLP. Our firm is highly experienced in divorce and relationship-related identity theft and could use that knowledge to help you. Call now.
The Schlanger Law Group accepts referrals from family and domestic law attorneys and can assist with a wide array of consumer protection issues.